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United Methodists Edge Toward Breakup Over LGBT Policies

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NEW YORK — There’s at least one area of agreement among conservative, centrist and liberal leaders in the United Methodist Church: America’s largest mainline Protestant denomination is on a path toward likely breakup over differences on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT pastors.

The differences have simmered for years, and came to a head in February at a conference in St. Louis where delegates voted 438-384 for a proposal called the Traditional Plan, which strengthens bans on LGBT-inclusive practices. A majority of U.S.-based delegates opposed that plan and favored LGBT-friendly options, but they were outvoted by U.S. conservatives teamed with most of the delegates from Methodist strongholds in Africa and the Philippines.

Many believe the vote will prompt an exodus from the church by liberal congregations that are already expressing their dissatisfaction over the move.

Some churches have raised rainbow flags in a show of LGBT solidarity. Some pastors have vowed to defy the strict rules and continue to allow gay weddings in Methodist churches. Churches are withholding dues payments to the main office in protest, and the UMC’s receipts were down 20 percent in March, according to financial reports posted online.

“It’s time for some kind of separation, some kind of amicable divorce,” said James Howell, pastor of Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, who posted a video assailing the proposal for its “real meanness.”

The UMC’s nine-member Judicial Council convenes a four-day meeting in Evanston, Ill., on Tuesday to consider legal challenges to the Traditional Plan. If the plan is upheld, it would take effect for U.S. churches on Jan. 1. If parts of it are struck down, that would likely trigger new debate at the UMC’s next general conference in May 2020.

The UMC’s largest church — the 22,000-member Church of the Resurrection with four locations in the Kansas City area — is among those applying financial pressure. Its lead pastor, Adam Hamilton, says his church is temporarily withholding half of the $2.5 million that it normally would have paid to the UMC’s head office at this stage of the year.

“We’ll ultimately pay it,” Hamilton said. “But we want to show that this is the impact if our churches leave.”

Hamilton is among the opponents of the Traditional Plan leading an initiative dubbed UMC-Next that seeks the best path forward for those who share their views. Clergy and activists in the alliance have met in Texas and Georgia, and a bigger meeting is planned for May 20-22 at Hamilton’s megachurch.

Hamilton, in a telephone interview, said two main options are under consideration.

Under one scenario, many centrists and liberals would leave en masse to form a new denomination — a potentially complex endeavor given likely disputes over the dissolution process.

Under the other option, opponents of the Traditional Plan would stay in the UMC and resist from within, insisting on LGBT-inclusive policies and eventually convincing the conservatives that they should be the faction that leaves under what’s envisioned as a financially smooth “gracious exit.”

“There’s a sense that some conservatives have been wanting to leave for a long time,” Hamilton said. “They’re tired of fighting about it.”

Formed in a merger in 1968, the United Methodist Church claims about 12.6 million members worldwide, including nearly 7 million in the United States.

While other mainline Protestant denominations have embraced gay-friendly practices, the UMC still bans them, though acts of defiance by pro-LGBT clergy have multiplied. Many have performed same-sex weddings; others have come out as gay or lesbian from the pulpit.

Enforcement of the bans has been inconsistent; the Traditional Plan aspires to beef up discipline against those engaged in defiance.

Traditional Plan supporter Mark Tooley, who heads a conservative Christian think tank, predicts that the UMC will split into three denominations — one for centrists, another oriented toward liberal activists and a third representing the global alliance of U.S. conservatives and their allies overseas.

“It’s a question of how long it takes for that to unfold — and of who and how many go into each denomination,” Tooley said. “A lot of churches will be irreparably harmed as they divide.”

Scott Jones, bishop of the UMC’s Houston-based Texas conference, says churchgoers in his region are divided in their views, but a majority supports the Traditional Plan’s concepts.

“I have urged all of us to love each other, listen to each other and respect each other, even if we disagree,” said Jones, who holds out hope that the UMC’s disparate factions can preserve some form of unity.

Ann Craig of Newburgh, New York — a lesbian activist who has advocated for greater LGBT inclusion in the UMC — thinks a breakup can be avoided, though she’s unsure what lies ahead.

“We expect something new to happen, but what that change should be or will be has not jelled yet,” she said. “I don’t think we’re going to break up — it’s so cumbersome to figure out a way to divorce.”

The crisis is being followed closely at Methodist-affiliated theology schools based at universities with LGBT-inclusive policies. There are 13 UMC-connected theology schools around the country.

“There’s a lot of turmoil and distress,” said Mary Elizabeth Moore, dean of Boston University School of Theology. “We’re trying to find a future that will be less destructive than where we are now.”


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    Total 2 comments
    • Man

      Isn’t it great How christianity unites people under god?

    • jknbt

      here is a brief history of how the Methodist church fell from being the top winner of souls one hundred years ago to the present day current state of apostasy as mentioned in this article: (P.S…editor/monitor, this is not spam. This comment goes to the heart of the discussion in the article).

      The UMC in the USA should simply close up shop. It should have a dissolution conference & break up into at least three different churches based on theology. Let the evangelicals & charismatics have their property and go away. The liberals hate them anyway. Let the gay tolerant churches form their own national church, the “National Church of the Raging Rainbow”, or something like that. Let the leaky liberals campaign away with their leftist socialist agenda/social gospel.

      Methodist churches close their doors for the last time in every city in the country every year since 1970. Let those that are about to go under, go under. They can combine with other lukewarm failing congregations in their city to form one big sinking ship church. Why do the hold-out conservative Methodist congregations that still are having revivals and still getting their teenagers saved continue to carry the dead rotting corpse of the national organization with their annual dues? Who needs them? They contribute nothing to the local church.

      Most Methodists don’t realize it, but the UMC passed the point of no return in its decline & fall several years ago, perhaps even decades ago. The state & nat’l organizations are just shells on paper, ghosts of their former glory days. Every great civilization that falls, falls from within. Or perhaps better stated: “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within” (Ariel Durant).

      What a shame. The Methodists were the first in revivals, first in decisions for Christ, and first building new churches, hospitals, orphanages, & colleges one hundred years ago. Then the liberals took over the seminaries after WWI. Their main agenda back then was to bash the belief in scriptural inerrancy. Once that point was conceded, the floodgates of doctrinal error were open.

      Then their graduates gradually took over the conferences’ administrations after WW2. They took over the seminaries even more than before. They taught that the scripture was not the inspired Word of God, only words about God, and only the writing of men. They taught that the Word was only ancient mythology that should be given the same respect as the Greek myths or other great national myths. Some seminary professors even taught that not only were the miracle stories bogus inventions, but that Jesus’ body was still in a grave somewhere in the middle east.

      The Methodists sold out to humanism and the humanist agenda somewhere along the way. They changed their statement of faith to reject biblical literalism in favor of the historical-critical method. Hold-out preachers that still preached a biblical-literalist, “get-saved-gospel” message that would have been very familiar to Wesley were shunned, banned, retired early, forced to locate, or demoted to have to ride the circuit again for the conference minimum pay grade. The marriage of biblical literalist evangelical revivalism with pervasive humanism and its agenda resulted in a bad case of spiritual AIDS. This was followed by inevitable spiritual death.

      The Holy Spirit is easily offended and will leave a local church or a whole denomination after repeated warnings have been ignored. This happened in the UMC a long time ago. It is hard to get him to come back once this happens. Without his prevenient grace, nothing good will happen inside a church after he leaves. Congregations devoid of the Spirit are just a corpse waiting for someone to come along and to finally, mercifully kick the life support machine plug out of the wall. UMC churches close every year for this reason. God wrote “Ichabod” over their front doors long ago, meaning, “The Spirit has Departed”. They stopped having revivals & building new churches pretty much everywhere (1960′s to 1970′s) after the dry rot of humanistic liberalism took hold in every conference. Go to any congregation, and you can tell the year they stopped having revivals. It will be about 40 years back from the average age of the people. With no teenagers saved in revivals, there were no new young families joining after they got married and had kids. Eventually only old people filled the pews. There are glorious exceptions to this generalization, but they are rare.

      This is the root cause reason of why Methodists are debating the issue in the article with the final outcome of a church split on the table.




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